Music Notes: The Simple Luminescence of the Lumineers

by WL Author

The Lumineers 2020 (photo by Danny Clinch)

By Steve Houk

It’s funny how something so big can start pretty simply. Especially when it involves one of modern music’s most successful and popular bands, The Lumineers.

The band’s birth really was as elementary as a bunch of common friends hooking up and playing music in their hometown of Ramsey, New Jersey, about 25 miles outside of New York City. These particular friends getting together just may have changed modern rock and roll history.

“Wes got back from college and wanted to start a band,” The Lumineers’ affable co-founder Jeremiah Fraites told me on a break from the band’s major world tour that stops at D.C.’s Capital One Arena on February 28th. “Me and my friend Justin had been making tons of music together, and Wes was like, ‘Hey, I want to start this band with you, Justin, you play drums.’ And Justin was like, ‘Not without Jer.’  Wes had never really paid me that much attention before as the little brother of his best friend, but that’s how it all started.”

Schultz and Fraites would eventually move from Manhattan, where living was too expensive, to Denver where they could work to make ends meet and also find time to concentrate on their music. “We got a house with a couple friends, and worked menial jobs at bars,” Fraites said. “The song “Slow It Down” off the first album is actually recorded in that house, because the amp was in the kitchen and Wes would play in the living room.”

The Lumineers 2020 (L-R: Jeremiah Fraites, Lauren Jacobson, Stelth Ulvang, Byron Isaacs and Wesley Schultz; photo by Danny Clinch)

Fraites and Schultz’s simple yet powerful sound has become their trademark, and they have worked very hard at it over their decade and a half of songwriting together. There were times along their ride when their sound had yet to find its base, its rhythm, its unique Lumineers thing. It took a period of ups and downs and hits and misses until things gelled and they were on their way. “You have to go through a lot of failure, a lot of trials and tribulations, a lot of trial and error,” Fraites explained.

“We wrote a lot of music together back then, it was crazy,” Fraites said. “I think we probably wrote close to 75 songs prior to the first album. The song that really changed everything for me was “Flowers in your Hair” off the first album, it was like a light bulb went off where I was like, ‘I’m going to like this for the rest of my life, whatever this is, whatever this feels like, this is really cool, this is something different.’ I think that’s where it all started, and it was something that just we both believed in and it just came natural. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, what’s important is you get there sooner or later. And in the end, we really created something that feels like our own.”

Those humble beginnings definitely worked out. Fifteen years after they began their journey, the dynamic duo of Fraites and Schultz — along with their current Lumi-cohorts Lauren Jacobson, Byron Isaacs and Stelth Ulvang — have helped to redefine the sound of modern folk/alternative rock, selling out legendary venues and playing top festivals worldwide, even recently opening for U2 on their world tour, and developing one of the largest and most loyal fan bases on the planet. Last fall, they released their third album III which rose to #2 on the Billboard charts and sparked a #1 single “Gloria.” As 2020 hits, The Lumineers show no signs of slowing down.

It was when they were beginning their first tour in 2011 that it really hit Fraites that The Lumineers had finally reached the promised land.

“I always wanted to play Radio City Music Hall, and our manager’s like, ‘It’s too small. You’ve got to play [Madison Square] Garden,’ and then tickets went on sale for the Garden and they sold out in like a half hour and they had to add another show, and that absolutely blew my mind. It was just like, ‘What, TWO nights at the Garden?’ I mean, if you came from where we’re from, Ramsey in Bergen County New Jersey, to us the Garden was the Mecca of all places to play probably in the world.”

Fraites and Schultz in Fairfield, Conn. in 2012 (photo by Sachyn Mital)

Fraites, who just turned 34 and Schultz, 37, have also believed from day one that even if your music is relatively straightforward and seemingly uncomplicated, you still need to give it everything you have, and that includes not only their music, but their live shows. And that philosophy has worked, as their rousing concerts have become part of their band’s mass appeal.

“Just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s simple,” Fraites continued. “It was always this thing of like, philosophically, if you are going to just stomp your foot, or if you’re going to push one button on a synthesizer, or one piano key, do it with everything you got, do it with every microscopic ounce of energy and passion you have. Have you ever heard people say don’t confuse kindness with weakness, or something to that effect? It’s like, don’t confuse simple music with not being able to do great music.”

(photo courtesy of CBS)

The Lumineers’ III The World Tour stops at Capital One Arena, 601 F Street NW. Tickets can be purchased here

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